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The Butler's Tale
She had taken him by surprise. Granted, he had been preoccupied.
Leaving David Xanatos to dress for dinner, his mind had been on not just the appointments of the day but the dinner menu, tomorrow's trade conference, the reports filed that afternoon by the electronics division of Xanatos Enterprises and Fox's credit card bills.
There was someone in his room.
He couldn't hear them. He barely sensed them. But his senses did not lie. He never broke stride, dropping his attaché case in a chair and loosening his ever-present red silk tie as he headed towards the window to open the blinds. He saw the faint fingerprint on the outside of the glass and a slight frown creased his features. They were over one hundred stories up.
One of the gargoyles...?
He caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye and he reacted immediately. His right hand shot out and closed around the wrist of the intruder, twisting with a strength and speed that would have snapped a mortal's arm like a twig.
"Is this how you greet all your old friends?" purred the young woman at the end of his arm, dangling a few inches off the floor. She was slight and at first glance she might have been mistaken for a young human woman.
She was neither young, nor human. Her grey pupil-less eyes spoke in whispers of age and preternatural charm, with perhaps a hint of true magic. Right now they were laughing at him from beneath her straight dark lashes.
"You!" he snapped in exasperation, releasing her. She continued to float inches above the carpet, a devilish smile lighting up her elfin face. She flew around him, taking in his attire and she reached out to ruffle his short blond hair.
"I am enchanted. Why, you could pass for human! Double breasted suit, oh! and spectacles," she snatched them off his face and looked through them with a giggle of sheer delight. "This is perfection. Whatever are you up to?"
Owen sighed and snatched them back. "That is none of your affair." He smoothed his hair back into place and glared at her. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you, of course. Might I add you were not easy to find." Her feet came to rest on the floor, the top of her head barely reaching his collarbone. It had been a very long time, indeed, since he had had to look down to meet her eyes, he noted absently. She flipped her dark hair out of her eyes and clicked her tongue against her teeth as she crossed her arms. The dour expression she wore looked comical on her. She was forever acting. Better that, than she drop the comfortable pretence. That would be significantly more difficult to deal with.
"There are reasons for that."
"It is a good thing then that I am not easily discouraged once I set my heart on a task."
He chose to ignore that remark, removing his jacket and turning away from her to hang it up. She touched his shoulder and he brushed her fingers away, sliding the heavy mirrored closet door shut again. He could see her reflection frown and ignored it, continuing his nightly routine, stubbornly refusing to alter it despite this unexpected reunion.
She draped herself across his back and met his eyes in the glass. "Aren't you the slightest bit glad to see me?" she asked, completely sincere.
"I think it's time for you to go." Owen began to disentangle himself. She spun around to face him and looking down into her upturned face, his resolve wavered for just an instant. She took advantage of the opportunity, leaning forward so that he could feel the warmth of her lips as they brushed his with the lightest of kisses.
"Am I interrupting something?" David Xanatos asked from where he leaned in the doorway, arms crossed and one eyebrow disappearing into his bangs as he took in the remarkable scene. Owen pulled away from the woman, who regarded Xanatos with open curiosity, a smile playing about the corner of her mouth.
Owen's heart sank into his shoes. She remembered. For a split second he was flustered, then regained his composure, as if being caught in an incriminating position with a young woman by his employer was a perfectly natural way to end his evening. "Not at all, sir."
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your guest?"
"She is not my guest, merely an inconvenient intruder I was in the midst of dealing with, I assure you."
"Nonsense, Owen. Any friend of yours is welcome here, although I would be curious to know how the young lady managed to get past castle security."
"As would I." Owen glared down at her dark head and for the first time realised that her court garb was gone, replaced instead by a very mundane green wool suit that was only off the mark by about six decades or so. And very fetching it had been in 1932, equally so now, Owen observed and then frowned again.
This was not good.
"David Xanatos," he held out his hand and with a smile she extended hers.
"My wife and I were about to have dinner. Would you care to join us, Ms. Rowan?"
"I would be delighted," Rowan smiled and Owen wondered if he had perhaps run down a hutch of innocent rabbits in a past life that he was being punished for now.
"Owen, do see to it that the staff make up a room for Ms. Rowan. Unless you'd prefer..." he left the sentence hang and swore his major domo actually blushed.
"I'll see to it immediately, sir."
"It's an unexpected pleasure to meet one of Owen's friends," Xanatos said conversationally as he offered Rowan his arm and they started downstairs to the dining room, leaving Owen, shirt half unbuttoned and loosened tie staring at the floor clenching and unclenching his fists, lost in thought and memories laced with honeysuckle and eternal summer.
Fosterage was a common, if antiquated, practice among Oberon's Children. The first time he had met Rowan, she'd been a child scarcely weaned. He'd been acting as messenger, delivering a summons to Áine. What the missive had been had not been his place to wonder. Later, he would put the pieces together, but just then, he had watched the regal faery woman in her gardens with her young son and daughter.
Áine had been famous in her time, as both a warrior and one of the most beautiful of the Children to come from the house of the Morrighan. It was an old house, as old as Madb whose line lived in Titania the Queen and Carnun, the line of kings. Her house was one of wild blood, as given to war as to love. Áine herself had been called a goddess of love, once. He could well understand why as he stood in the garden and listened to her sing to her babes. She had been a vision to behold, with hair black as any raven's wing and neck and cheeks pale as the full moon. It had almost made him forget that of late her line had become known for its habit of producing jacks and other tricksters.
He had forgotten the event until some years later, when his lord had summoned him to the castle nestled among the hills of Avalon one evening.
Avalon, circa 624 CE (as humans reckon time) The Reign of Oberon III
"You are our faithful servant, are you not?" his lord addressed him and Owen sank to one knee.
"Of course, my lord."
"There is a maid almost of an age to serve our Queen that I would you tutor in the ways of servitude."
"My lord... surely one of the Queen's ladies—"
"The girl has wild blood in her, blood which needs taming if she is to serve Titania as you serve me. As you are no stranger to the ways of the jacks and púcas, I have decided she shall be fostered with you and your family until she is old enough to become a member of our household."
"If that is your wish, my lord."
"It is our wish. And you will carry out our wishes as we see fit. The girl is with our Queen; you are to fetch her. You are dismissed."
"Nursemaid, he would make me a nursemaid—" Owen had grumbled—but not too loud, for fear his voice carry in the stone hall—as he made his way to the Queen's apartments.
The sounds of laughter came from the solar, where the then young queen and her ladies spent their days. Creeping up to the door, he peered inside and the sight that met his eyes caused a smile to rise unbidden to his lips.
A young girl, barely a woman and still very much a child sat in the centre of the floor, her dark hair free and loose. He knew her now as Brandon the Raven's younger sister, Áine's daughter. She wore not skirts nor a kirtle, but hose and jerkin like he himself wore, in varying shades of green and brown. A dog, white with one red ear, lay on its back on the floor and she scratched its belly. Its tail thumped the floor and tongue lolled in pure ecstasy and she laughed. Titania watched her, the barest hint of a smile on her lips and then her gaze drifted upwards, almost to meet his.
He stepped inside the door and bowed low. "My lady," he said solemnly and she motioned for him to rise.
"My husband has told me you are to take our Fionnuala from us."
At this, the girl's head snapped up and the hound rose to its feet and lumbered across the room to sniff his fingers, tail still wagging. Her grey eyes were bright and studied him even as a moment ago he had studied her. She remained sitting among the rushes, one leg tucked beneath her. The other ladies of the court sat on padded benches, skirts and the occasional pair of wings carefully arranged, silk slippers peaking beneath their hems. He was struck by the dichotomy and for the briefest of seconds, he understood that this was what Lady Titania prized in her new servant.
"Yes, my lady. He has bidden me to train her in the ways of service."
"Teach her well, my puck." Titania smiled in truth then and Rowan's shoulders stiffened.
It was an interesting beginning.
"You have an unusual home, Mrs. Xanatos," Rowan remarked to Fox as they sat down to eat in the cavernous dining room, her voice echoing only slightly off the stone walls.
"Fox." The woman's smile was feral.
"Fox." Rowan inclined her head slightly, sipping the wine. "May I ask as to how Castle Wyvern came to be perched here, a hundred stories above Manhattan?"
"You know the castle history?" Xanatos's surprise showed in his voice and face and his fork froze in midair, a piece of beef precariously perched on the edge. If Rowan noticed the edge beneath the innocuous remark, she gave no outward sign.
"Somewhat. I visited the highlands once, when I was young." She smiled at the memory. Delicately sipping from her wineglass again, she affected a countenance of innocent curiosity. "I seem to remember the walls were decorated with the most fascinating statues of gargoyles. Whatever became of them?"
"They were removed shortly after Mr. Xanatos had the castle shipped from Scotland," Owen said curtly, wondering what game she was playing at now.
"Unfortunately, they didn't quite seem to fit, although I had hoped to keep them myself."
"Tell me, how did you and Owen meet?" Fox's eyes glittered with curiosity in the candlelight.
"Oh, it was ages ago. I was fostered with him as a child."
"I'm sorry, I had no idea."
"Being a foster child is often such a harrowing experience—"
"Oh, no. Where I come from, children are fostered until they reach the age of maturity. I assure you, it was quite pleasant."
"What an interesting practice," Fox said conversationally and Owen began to twist the cloth napkin in his lap. "Where are you from?"
"Did Owen never tell you?"
"Sir, could I speak to you for a moment?" Owen stood, placing his crumpled and abused napkin next to his plate and stepped away from the table.
Xanatos frowned at this unusual display and murmured an apology to Fox and Rowan as he followed Owen into the study.
"Sir, while it is true I knew the young woman when she was a child, I feel I should warn you that she is given to extensive flights of fancy—"
"Cut the crap, Owen. Just how much does the young lady know?"
"More than she should, sir." Owen's shoulder slumped in defeat and Xanatos began to pace.
"And how much did you tell her?"
"I have not seen her in many years, long before you acquired the Grimorum and learnt of the gargoyles. Before I entered your service in fact."
Xanatos digested this information. He had placed the age of the young woman at her mid-twenties. Somehow, he couldn't picture Owen consorting with a fifteen year old girl, so he mentally shifted her age upwards another five years. This jibed with her claim of fosterage, though he was beginning to wonder at the validity of the claim. "How long have you worked for me, Owen?"
"Ten years, sir."
"And in that time, have I ever asked you about your past?"
"You have been very discreet regarding the subject and I thank you for it." Owen met his employer's eyes. "Sir," he added belatedly.
"In all these years, I have never once doubted your loyalty. I would not presume to do so now. Can your young lady be trusted to act accordingly?"
Owen actually seemed to be considering this for a moment. "I do not think she is any kind of threat," he said carefully. "And if she is, I will deal with her."
After all, he'd had practice.
Avalon, circa 624 CE (as humans reckon time) The Reign of Oberon III
"I have to what?" Rowan shrieked and Owen clamped his hands over his gracefully tapered ears half in jest. "I'll not." Rowan scowled up at him. "I'm to be her puck, not her ladies maid. Why should I?"
"I'll not!" She planted herself in the clover, legs and arms crossed in a posture that screamed "I'm not going to be budged, either physically or mentally, from my very defensible position, so there."
"You will," Owen said sweetly, towering over her, "or I shall do something unspeakably nasty."
She sighed and then the dress disappeared from his hands, to replace her customary breeches and shirt. He scowled. The brocade was getting grass stains.
"Now then, back to etiquette—" She groaned and he ignored her, taking the pose of lecturing professor. "There are strict rules that govern behaviour at Court—"
Her laugh came out strangled between incredulity and cynicism. "Since when?"
"Since always. And if you're to spend any amount of time there, you're going to have to learn to play by the rules."
"I thought the entire point of being a puck was to not play by the rules?'
"My dear child, one cannot break the rules unless one has learnt them first."
"Can't I just observe them from afar?"
He held out his hand and she sighed, resigned. He drew her to her feet. She cursed the voluminous skirts, almost tumbling back down to the turf but for his hand locked around her wrist.
"i'Faith, I would these wretched things never invented!"
"What, skirts? They came before all else, silly thing."
"'tis no reason for me to like them any better," she snapped, brushing leaves from the patterned silk.
"Now then, I am a visiting kinsman, how do you greet me?"
"With the clasp of my hand and a kiss to your right—no, left cheek." She shook his hand quickly and brushed his cheek with her lips before pulling back and crossing her arms, still annoyed. He blinked, feeling the warmth of her still close to him.
"No. The kiss is for close kin only," he reprimanded her. "And if he—"
"Semantics. If he, or she, is of higher standing?"
"Then I bend my knee first." She dropped into a sloppy curtsey.
"Good." He walked around her, considering her posture and pulled her shoulders back. "Stand up straight.
"Ah, you're my mother, now?"
"Hush. To whom do you offer guest right?"
"Any at all that come to my hall under the banner of the Houses. I'm tired of this quiz, I know it backwards and forwards again. Why can we not discuss something new?"
"Because I cannot return you to Court without this seen to; Oberon would have my hide."
"Ah, you exaggerate." She snapped her fingers and the heavy kirtle and skirts disappeared, replaced by familiar shirt and leggings.
"Never underestimate him in his anger." He waggled a finger at her.
"You are his puck. What quarrel can he take with you?"
"There are many, never you worry. He will find one whether I am careful or not."
"Then glad I am to call his lady my mistress instead. She does not stand on ceremony so."
"And you newly in her service, just you wait. All of the Court stands on ceremony, believe me."
"What a sad day, indeed, to see the great and mighty Puck to Lord Oberon in the role of nursemaid and tutor."
"And to a wayward child such as you, my heart would break from the pain of it. Come now, we're not done yet. When you are formally presented, how shall you?"
"I shall wait, head bowed respectfully low, until I am recognised. I will fall to my knees before the assembled court. Then I shall, with such solemnity as you would not imagine of me, approach our King and his Queen and pledge fealty. I shall glow with pride to be counted among their number. Then I shall sit at my Queen's feet and your at her lord's and that shall be that."
"You over-dramatise it, as always."
"It's naught but a game and we the mummers lying in wait for our cue. How can you not laugh at the absurdity of it all?"
"I do. But it is not your place to mock tradition."
"And why not? Though you are not of my house, our blood makes us kin enough. What, would you claim you have never made light of your lord and his endless laws?"
"If I have, it has been my own concern, not a precedent for you, young lady."
"i'faith, if you think me a lady, then you have much to learn, Teacher."
"I never thought I'd see it," Xanatos chuckled, sipping his brandy.
"So, the amazingly enigmatic Mr. Burnett actually has a past." Fox spun around, modelling her new night-gown and frowned when David did not look up from the stack of still photographs.
"And a very attractive past she is too."
"And equally as enigmatic," Fox seated herself at the edge of his desk and he spread the photos out for her.
"I've gone over the security tapes and I still can't fathom how she entered the castle. One second Owen's room was empty, the next it was showing intruder alert."
"Talented and enigmatic."
"Fox, my love, can I ask a favour of you?"
"Keep an eye on our guest?"
"They are fascinating creatures." Rowan floated above the floor in Owen's quarters, shaking her hair out of the French twist, the blue-black waves falling to her waist and pins disappearing before they could touch the floor. He saw her suit shimmer and change this time into a diaphanous silk gown that seemed to him to leave little to the imagination, though it covered her from head to foot. "For mortals, in any case. Why do you serve him?"
"I am bound to him."
"He has bound you with iron?" her grey eyes darkened with hasty anger at the mere thought. While it touched him, it was also the wrong conclusion and he sought to soothe her bristling temper.
"He has no idea what I—we—are. I joined his service when I left Renard. Over the years... let me simply say I am loyal to him."
"He knows not what he has," she said softly, touching his cheek with a fingertip in a familiar gesture of affection.
"Why have you come now?" he purposefully broke the mood.
"Why, to see you, of course," she answered brightly and so he knew it for a lie.
"Rowan—" he began, feeling impatience building.
"—and run an errand." She sat at the end of his bed and arranged her skirts, not meeting his eyes.
"What manner of errand?"
"Just a little fetching and carrying, nothing of any great importance." She waved his concern away.
"Why do I not believe you?" He tilted her chin so that she was forced to meet his gaze and she slid away from his touch, wandering over to the window.
"It has nothing to do with you, or your pet mortals, I promise. The time of the Gathering draws near and my lady would have her mirror back, that is all."
Owen gave her a sidelong glance, but kept his thoughts from his face. There was no way she could know just what role the mirror had played in recent weeks and yet he couldn't shake the idea that she must, for hadn't she found him? They had not spoken in decades, she had no way of knowing he was in the city, let alone his borrowed form and terms of servitude.
"How will you find it?"
She spun away from the dark glass and leaned against it, hands clasped behind her back. "The mirror is Titania's. Its power signature should match another of her objects, say, a ring," she produced a rose gold and opal ring from thin air, the stone faintly pulsating in the dim light. "They will call to one another; it cannot be hard." She smiled and then met his eyes. "What am I to call you, then?"
"I could never abide calling you Robin. Owen suits you better, I think." She smiled at the memories. "It always has."
His mouth went dry and with great effort, he stepped away from her. It wasn't so much to put space between them, as to remind his legs how to move in some other direction than towards her. A small and subtle distinction, to be sure, but a vital one.
"This is all very interesting, but I have rather a long day ahead of me. Teleconference with the Emir at nine and a meeting of the division heads at eleven; I'm afraid you'll be on your own."
Having watched the mask slipping into place, she felt for her own and her grey eyes sparkled once more not with memories but with mischief.
"Tonight? Or tomorrow?" she raised a brow and he folded his arms across his chest, one eyebrow climbing toward his hairline. "It's to be both, then." She sighed dramatically. "Sleep well," she said as she blew him a kiss and slipped out the door.
The museum was oddly empty and no one marked a lone woman wandering the exhibits, barely stopping to glance at the paintings, weapons, and clothing inside the glass cases and behind velvet ropes as she determinedly made her way to an empty display.
She snatched a ring from the air and frowned as it glowed a steady pale white. Pocketing it, she glanced about and marked a guard near the door.
"Pardon me," she touched his shoulder and he started, having not seen her enter.
"Yes, I was looking for a mirror; it's in the programme book," she flipped to the marked page, showing him the half-page photo. "Has it been moved?"
"No, ma'am. The mirror was stolen last month. They haven't gotten around to reprinting the exhibit guide."
"I see. Was it never recovered?"
He shook his head and she snapped the book closed. "Thank you anyway," she said absently and stalked out of the building into the bright sunlight, swearing softly under her breath.
The mirror was in the city, she could feel it. She faded from sight, startling some pigeons and a stray cat, though no one on the street noticed her disappearance as they had never marked her presence in the first place.
Rowan reappeared in the New York Public Library and sat before the microfiche machine. Without touching a single dial or button, it whirred to life before her, bringing up an article. She read it quickly, her frown deepening. Then the seat was empty, the faint scent of apple blossoms lingering until it too dissipated.
The ring took her to a five story brownstone near the park. Rowan held out her hand, where the opal pulsated and emitted a strong blue light in the early evening gloom. She stood outside the electric gate, head cocked like a bird's. Then, quick as thought, she was over it, hidden from prying eyes by subtle magic and old habits that die hard. No more linen or wool, but leaf green and shadow grey velvet as she peered into the window and saw a red-haired woman flash past the pane.
Crouched low in the hedge, her grey eyes narrowed as she watched the house's lone inhabitant close up all the shutters and drapes, despite the fact that the house was surrounded by a ten foot wall. Rowan cursed and crept closer, finding a crack in the drapes of the drawing room that allowed her to see inside.
The woman carefully removed her shoes and laid her linen jacket on the divan. Next went her watch, haircombs and nylons. Rowan started to turn away from the window when the sun slipped below the horizon and a low moan escaped the woman's mouth as she suddenly convulsed. Rowan froze, a shiver sliding down her back.
The air stank of magic as the woman's form contracted and expanded, a guttural cry wrenched from her lips as bones and tissue rearranged themselves, skin stretching into wing, nail to claw, tooth to fang until she threw her head back and a gargoyle's eyes glowed crimson beneath the shock of wild auburn hair.
Rowan's eyes widened in recognition.
Wyvern, Scotland, 975 CE
"Why must I play at being a serving girl? Why not a lady of quality?" Rowan hissed as she took in the drab homespun wool dress and apron.
Owen merely smiled and if not for the smile she would never have recognised him. He had taken the form of a knight, one of the Prince's retainers who, like the serving girl she now resembled, would spend this night sleeping off too much wine—and a touch of enchantment—in the stable's loft.
To guard themselves from the abundance of iron in the castle—and in Owen's case, his disguise—they had clothed themselves in human flesh. It was limiting, but then, there were involved in a simple fetch and carry errand. But it meant little or no magic unless they broke their masquerade.
It was not the first such mission they had undertaken together in the almost four hundred years—barely fifteen years as Avalon's time marks human days—since she had been presented and officially made the Queen's puck. Fifteen years of the pettiness of Court life. Rowan was well glad to be away, even for a fetch and carry.
She was no longer a girl. Already the ageless qualities of the Children had made themselves apparent, as her youthful coltishness was replaced with grace and fine features that she would carry with her for centuries to come. Even with time passing so differently between the land of their birth and the human World they often inhabited, she was still very young; by Avalon's standards an adolescent.
Owen straightened her braid, picking hay out of it and she slapped his fingers away as they heard the sounds of approaching horsemen.
"i'faith, we must hide—" she whispered fiercely, glancing about the stable for a suitable place. Instead of scrambling, Owen suddenly grabbed her about the waist and pulled her to him. "What are you about, you daft—"
He cut off her protests with a very energetic kiss as the horsemen dismounted and grooms appeared to lead the mounts away. As the party—which consisted of a Norman and his companion and three strangers strangely garbed in oddly cut breeches and jackets and in the woman's case, neither breeches nor skirt as you could call a skirt at all—swept past them, Rowan opened her eyes a crack to watch them being lead out of the stable by a page. Save for a few amused glances by the grooms and the tall bearded gentleman, no one paid any heed to a knight and serving girl in the shadows of the stalls.
As their footsteps faded away, Rowan turned her attention back to her tutor and colleague, only to find him staring down at her with apparent wonder. She felt a flush rise in her cheeks as she realised his hands had slid downward to her buttocks and there wasn't a sliver of daylight between them.
"I think—" she began breathlessly and then he leaned forward and brushed her lips with his. Their charade forgotten, she leaned into the kiss, parting her lips beneath his and grabbing handfuls of his jerkin to pull herself up to get her hands around his neck.
Now, why, pray tell, haven't we done this before? she wondered absently as warmth flooded her every nerve and he set her back down on her feet.
"We'll have to hurry to catch them up," Owen said absently and she could only nod, putting her hands to her flaming cheeks.
They arrived as Malcolm of Wyvern swept into the great hall to greet his guests. "We are much pleased at your safe arrival, Ambassador. But where, prithee tell me, is my bride?"
"It was hoped that by travelling in secret, we could avoid the attentions of rogues and thieves—" the Ambassador began and the woman at his side threw back her hood.
"We were wrong." Elena gestured to the oddly dressed trio. "But these kind strangers rescued us most valiantly," she caught Malcolm's eyes and held them, "and saved my life."
The Prince fished several coins out of his purse and pressed them into the hand of the man who bowed before him. "These tokens are but the first of your reward. Tonight you will have fine food, fine lodgings—" He found his eyes drawn to their strange apparel. "—and fine clothes. We were to have been married tomorrow, the attack on Princess Elena makes me anxious. We shall wed this very night." He turned to the servants. "Prepare the great hall."
"Is your father's wedding gift safe?" the Ambassador whispered and Elena removed the talisman from her sleeve, where she had hidden it during the attack. Rowan's eyes widened and she saw Owen move closer so he could hear her reply.
"I shall present the Phoenix Gate to my husband tonight, after the ceremony."
Owen caught Rowan's eye and she nodded imperceptibly.
"Girl," Malcolm addressed her, "help my wife-to-be to dress."
Rowan dipped into a hasty curtsey and then followed the lady up the stone stairs to the chambers above.
The steward's wife, a smiling young woman called Morag, lead Rowan and Elena to a small chamber that overlooked the courtyard. Elena seemed charmed by the stone chamber's rustic furnishing, but Rowan, accustomed to the exquisite workmanship of Avalon's artisans, wondered for the millionth time how mortals could stomach living little better than their beasts of burden.
Elena picked up the wedding gown from where it lay draped across the bed. The haste which with they had left Normandy demanded that she send her belongings separately, her mother's wedding dress among them. She had only the clothes on her back to call her own. But Malcolm had the dress made for her and it was not unattractive. But it was not the same. She reached out to touch the sleeve, sighing.
"It's lovely, my lady," Rowan said quietly.
"You think so?"
"Oh, aye. You'll make a bonnie bride."
Elena unclasped her cloak and held it out. After a second's hesitation, Rowan realised Elena was waiting for her to take it. She folded it over her arm, having no earthly idea what she was meant to do with it. Finally she laid it carefully across the chest at the foot of the bed. Elena held her arms out from her sides and Rowan bit back a scathing retort. For a woman who had ridden through the highlands of Scotland, with only one man for escort—dressed as a boy no less—she would have thought Elena could get undressed by herself.
Apparently not. Still, Rowan thought to herself as she undid laces and buckles, no doubt the lady was accustomed to dresses that were, being mortal and without magic, hell to get in and out of without assistance.
Elena reached into her sleeve and removed the Phoenix Gate, setting it on the table beside her. Rowan stiffened and then continued with her task, moving behind the Norman princess to pull the tunic over her head. While Elena was blinded by fabric, Rowan reached out.
Her fingers hovered over the Gate for a moment, before she pulled them back with a silent curse and removed the tunic.
"Is that gold?" Rowan tried to summon adequate awe and Elena followed her gaze.
"'Tis like gold, but purer than any I've seen. The Phoenix Gate has been in my family for generations and is my gift to my husband."
"May I see it?"
The night was broken by a howl before the princess could answer.
"What was that?" Elena paled.
"Just a gargoyle." Rowan shrugged. "Do you nae have them where ye came from?"
"I have heard tales . . ." Elena's eyes were round, the whites gleaming in the dim chamber, "that they are creatures born of dark sorcery."
"There's nothing sorcerous about them. There have been gargoyles as long as there have been men," Rowan laughed and then remembered her place and cast her eyes down to the floor, "so I'm told, lady. Their rookery lies beneath the keep, in the caverns. They protect the castle; it is their life. You've naught to fear from them."
"You'll forgive me if I do not take you at your word." Elena stiffened and dismissed her with a wave of her hand.
"I'll have your bath drawn, Princess," Rowan backed out of the room, clenching and unclenching her fists. Damn Oberon and his laws. If it were up to her, she would just take the damned Gate and have done with it.
Leaving the princess to comb out her hair to dry, Rowan met the puck on the walls of the castle. They had shed their disguises and were invisible to the mortal eye.
"We'll wait until after the ceremony," Owen informed her, "when she presents the Gate to the Prince."
"If not for Oberon's edict, we could simply take it," Rowan scowled.
"We are bound by his law."
"Aye. And he knew as much when he sent us out to fetch it. Do you think he is laughing at our antics?"
"Undoubtedly," he said with a wry smile. "Is that not the office of a Fool, to amuse his lord?"
"It is the office of a jester, a role neither I nor, I think, you aspire to."
"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths no one else will speak." He smiled briefly and caught a flicker of movement out the corner of his eye. "What's this?" He pulled his attention from her to the shadow of a gargoyle on the wall. "Look you there, at the window."
"That's Elena's window!" Rowan frowned. "It would seem we are not the only ones covetous of the Gate."
They drifted down, still hidden by a cloak of glamour to where a young gargoyle female inspected her prize.
"This changes things," Rowan mused.
"More than you know," Owen's hand tightened on her shoulder as out of the clear night air a sphere of fire appeared.
Rowan's lips parted in surprise as the flames dissipated and two gargoyle females, mirrors of one another, stood on the walls. Each held a Gate.
"Two?" Rowan whispered, though there was no need and the puck could only watch the drama unfold before them.
"What a merry game. Shall we watch, then?"
"There is little else we can do." Rowan frowned and the floated closer to eavesdrop.
The young female's eyes were round as eggs. "You look like...but this cannot be!"
"Oh, I am quite real." The elder female held up the gate, her voice like steel.
"Soon. But first we must go somewhere private. I know from experience that my arrival through the flames will attract one other. Desflagrate muri tempi et intervalia" The one pulled her younger self closer to her and the sphere of fire enveloped them.
"This is madness!" The puck grinned. "What ingenious creatures these are."
"I'm glad you can appreciate their cleverness, old friend. But need I remind you that they are disappearing with our prize?"
His expression darkened for a moment and then he grinned maliciously. "You think so?"
Her mouth opened in surprise as he zipped away from her side, towards the globe of flame. Even as he did so, another gargoyle leapt from the highest most tower. Both were caught in the flames' wake and vanished. Rowan flew towards the rapidly shrinking gate and screamed in frustration as she glided through empty air, the sphere and its travellers having vanished.
She landed on the opposite tower, where the strangers waited. Another sphere opened up and four figures appeared in the flames. The male gargoyle carried one of the females, unconscious, in his arms. The puck, still hidden from human and gargoyle alike, was not grinning any longer and moved to Rowan's side in silence.
"What do you mean?" she whispered fiercely, her anger at having been left behind melting away at the haunted look in his eye.
"A tale for another day," he said quietly.
The bearded human grinned. "I think we've found our ticket home."
"If I didn't fear the damage you would do to the time stream, I'd gladly leave you here." The gargoyle's voice was a low rumble, bringing to mind dark rolling stormclouds and thunder.
The human only grinned wider. "But you won't. Because you didn't. Time travel's funny that way."
The puck moved closer to the gargoyles, his expression curiously blank as the large male smiled at the young female sadly.
"Goodbye, my angel. Remember your promise."
She nodded and then the sphere rose in the air, vanishing in a flash of light and taking the strange party back to their own time.
"Owen, the gate!" Rowan whispered to her mentor, but he held up his hand to stay her as a bearded old man emerged from the stairwell. She made a sound of pure frustration. "How many more players must appear in this game?"
"I saw the phoenix flame," the old man said in an accusing tone. "You lost the gate! Admit it, you stupid beast!"
He raised a hand in anger. "Fulminus venite!"
Lightning sprang from his fingertips to strike her and she cried out in pain, falling to her knees. He loomed over her, hand still raised. "I will tell Prince Malcolm that you stole the gate."
An old, grizzled warrior landed on the tower, a sword in his belt. "Why would you suspect this child of stealing anything from the prince? And even if she did, precisely who would she have been stealing it for?"
The old man swallowed his fury. "I will not forget this." He stormed back down the stairs.
"All is not lost. There is another—the gate from this time," Rowan mused and they drifted down from the walls to stand near the young female, who stared at her taloned feet nervously beneath the old warrior's gaze. Then a young gargoyle male, twin to the one who had disappeared in the flames, landed and the female threw herself into his arms.
"My love, you're here!" she exclaimed, as if she hadn't expected it.
The male seemed embarrassed by her display. "We must go immediately, or we will miss prince Malcolm's wedding."
"Go on, then," the old one smiled indulgently.
The puck remained silent and Rowan touched his arm.
"Come, we shall also witness this blessed union," he took her hand and they landed in one of the shallow windows of the hall. Garlands were hung, perfuming the air with the scent of wildflowers as Elena and Malcolm knelt before the priest. The gargoyles landed in the window next to them and Rowan pulled her attention from the human couple to the gargoyle.
"Exchanging tokens to seal their pledge of love," the male noted as the prince placed the wedding ring on his wife's finger. "Strange custom, but fitting."
Rowan gasped as the female held out the gate and snapped it in half in one decisive motion. Her grip on her teacher's arm was painfully tight and he sighed.
"Take this token of my love. Cherish it always, as I will cherish my half. Upon this I pledge my heart to you, forever."
"I accept your token, my angel of the night and vow that you and I are one, now and forever." He drew her into his arms, enveloping her in his wings.
"There is nothing to be done, then." They turned away from the window, floating up into the night sky. "We did all we could. Your mistress and my lord will understand as much."
"They are sweet," Rowan mused, glancing down at the gargoyles. The puck remained silent and they flew out over the cliffs to the sea, where a skiff floated, waiting to take them back to Avalon.
The puck laughed. It was a short bark of laughter that was completely devoid of mirth. "You have no idea how sweet." He looked down into her upturned face and reached out to caress her cheek. Her eyes widened at the first touch of his long, pale fingers. "You are sweet."
Rowan was in Owen's rooms when he returned from serving dinner. She lay on his bed, gowned in sea green silk that made her eyes the grey of storm clouds.
Owen went about his business, removing his dinner jacket and dress shirt and hanging them neatly in his closet. He caught her eyes in the mirror, following his every move. "Did you find it?" He asked casually.
"Then I suppose your errand is complete and you'll be going."
She ignored the not particularly subtle hint. "Were you aware the mirror was stolen recently?"
"Really? I had no idea."
"Funny, I would have thought you might have noticed. It was in the paper." Her eyes narrowed just a touch. "In fact, it appears to have been stolen by or for... what is she calling herself these days? Ah, yes. Demona." She watched Owen's face for some kind of reaction. "Did you know she is human by day?"
"Is she?" Owen continued hanging up his clothes.
"I chanced upon her at dusk. It looked extraordinarily painful, actually. The transformation, that is." She slipped off the bed, running her fingers along the books on his shelf, watching him out of the corner of her eye. "Tell me about your Mr. Xanatos," she changed the subject.
"What would you like to know?"
"Does he still have the book and jewel?"
"Ah." He resumed his toilet, buttoning a pair of plain blue cotton pyjamas. "Now I see."
"What—exactly—do you see?"
"Is that really why you came, Rowan? After the 'ultimate magical power'?"
"I came... I have my loyalty and duty, just as you do." But I followed my heart, she couldn't dare add, though she pulled her eyes away before he might read the thought in their depths. "The three mustn't be allowed to fall into the hands of the ignorant, you know that. They are the keys to open Avalon to the younger races; would you see them used for ill?"
He seemed to ponder this for a long moment before replying. "Mr. Xanatos no longer has them. The Grimorum was stolen and is now in the hands of Goliath. As for the Eye... he traded it for Fox's life. Demona had the Gate, but..."
"Let me hazard a guess. They too are now in the possession of the one called Goliath." She frowned. "Does this gargoyle have any idea what he has?"
"It's possible that he might discover it. He can read. But I do not think he would read the Grimorum, he has a distaste for magic. Something to do with being under a spell for a thousand years, I should imagine," he said as he removed his glasses and laid them on the bedside table. She knelt at his feet, all traces of mercurial humour fled and a sombreness in their place.
"It is enough we lost the Gate to the Normans. But then again, thanks to Oberon's foolish laws, when Elena married Malcolm. And now to Goliath?"
"He will not use it," he assured her.
"How can you be so sure?" she snapped, frustration stiffening her shoulders and setting her mouth into a grim line.
"Goliath is the most honourable of creatures."
"And what of Demona? She was the Archmage's pupil and now she has the mirror. If she were to use it to learn where the gargoyles roost, she could easily by day take the three. She could storm the gates of our home. You know she would do it. We are the first race, no matter what the humans and gargoyles call us. We have not survived countless millennia to fall now."
Owen tilted her chin so her eyes met his. "I have never heard you defend the shores of our home so passionately. Certainly not since our exile began."
"I am passionate about many things," she said softly. "I would have thought you remembered."
"I remember," he said as he bent to kiss her, effectively ending the discussion.
Fox Xanatos growled in frustration.
"Now, now, my dear. The day wasn't a complete loss." David chuckled, even though there was a dangerous light in his wife's eye that would send other men scrambling from the room. Instead he pulled her onto his lap.
"I spent the entire day at the museum. The museum, David." Fox hated museums. Her father used to force her to attend boring lectures and exhibits when she was a child. David remained—wisely—silent, waiting for her to continue. "I swear, one moment she was there and then next she had disappeared. She couldn't have gotten past me. There was no way."
"My love, while I know you pride yourself on your tracking abilities, perhaps Ms. Rowan simply went out through a restricted access area?"
"Are you trying to tell me she went out the back door? I had the backdoor covered. I had every door covered."
"Did you find out what she was after?"
"She asked a guard about that mirror that was stolen last month."
David's head snapped up. "Intriguing. Very intriguing." He stroked his beard and Fox got up, stretching.
"I don't see why she's so interested in some tarnished old antique."
"Something tells me there is rather a great deal more to Ms. Rowan than meets the eye," Xanatos said quietly.
"You have no idea where the gargoyles roost by day?" Rowan rolled over onto her stomach and traced lazy circles on Owen's bare shoulder.
"None, I fear. Mr. Xanatos has been unable to track them; they are very cautious. They have little reason to trust mortals, though there is an exception. I suppose, theoretically, one could follow Detective Maza to find the gargoyles."
"If it were that easy, would not your Mr. Xanatos have done so already?"
"He prefers different methods. There is no sport in the tactics of a sneak thief."
"I resent that."
"It is all a game to him. He thinks he has nothing to lose."
"Yet you say he traded the Eye for his wife. That he could not lose her."
"That did surprise me. And even though it meant the loss of the Eye, it pleased me as well."
"You think of him as a friend, don't you."
"I know that I am the closest thing he has to a friend, though I am not sure I perceive our relationship in exactly the same light."
"You always were a horrid liar."
"Would Demona sink to the tactics of a sneak thief?"
"I do not know. She does not yet know about Avalon, she may well be content to keep luring Goliath out on her terms. She saw her people destroyed by the northmen while they slept. As much as she hates him, she would not see him suffer the same fate. No, I do not think she would."
"Unless she learns about Avalon. That might prove persuasive enough for her to abandon her honour."
"Well then, we must see to it that she does not. The detective can wait, as long as Demona has the mirror...That shall be my first task then."
"Demona is dangerous."
"As I am."
"Let me come with you."
"Who will pour your master's tea?"
Rowan had started early. Fox watched her enter the castle elevator from the security console. She spoke into air, her voice picked up by the mic hidden inside the collar of her oversized sweater.
"She'll be at street level in five, I'm taking the chopper."
"Check in regularly," Xanatos clicked on his screen and didn't bat an eye at the apparent stranger looking back at him. "I like you as a brunette."
Fox's smile gave her away, but other than that the disguise was effective enough. Sunglasses, denim mini, the aforementioned sweater, along with the short wig, her tattoo hidden by a professional application of make-up, her own mother wouldn't have recognised her.
"Maybe tonight we can have a little fun?"
"Business first." Xanatos clicked off his screen and was looking over the schedule for the trade conference when Owen walked in.
"Is the car ready?"
"Waiting at the kerb, sir."
"Efficient as ever, Owen. I don't know what I do without you."
"While you are at the conference, sir, I took the liberty of arranging a meeting with the electronics division to go over the financials in your absence."
"I should be ready at ten to five. Fox took the chopper. She's going shopping. Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all, sir."
Rowan looked up at the glass and steel tower she'd just exited and chuckled. It was impossible to discern the walls of Castle Wyvern from this distance, but she fancied that she could. A slight breeze kicked up and she brushed dark strands of hair from her cheek. Without warning a small white owl came down to land on her shoulder and she smoothed the creatures feathers, cooing softly.
"The park, then," she laughed and the bird launched itself from its perch and she hailed a taxi.
As she stepped into the car, a hundred stories above her Owen stroked the small night bird's wings.
Sitting on a bench in Central Park, throwing crusts of bread to the pigeons, Rowan seemed distracted when Owen sat down next to her. The opal ring caught the light of the sun as she flung the crumbs and Owen could tell it was pulsating slightly in the midmorning sunlight.
"Is the mirror close?"
"Two miles, perhaps three. Do you mind a walk? It's quite the lovely day for it."
"I do wish you'd reconsider this."
"You're so cute when you're overprotective. Coming?" She draped her suit jacket over her arm and waited expectantly. He took her arm and they began to stroll leisurely down the street looking like nothing so much as newlyweds.
From the bus stop where she sat, walkman headphones in her ears and cracking her gum loudly, Fox's eyes widened in surprise as she saw Owen. Regaining her composure, she continued to follow at a discreet distance, but she tabbed the mic.
"David, you're not going to like this..."
The house looked completely out of place, high-rises and office buildings rising on either side of the walled garden. The main gate had "Keep Out" in two foot high letters and surveillance cameras swivelled to record them from atop the wall.
"So much for just knocking," Rowan patted Owen's arm affectionately and leaned towards the intercom. "Hello, anyone home?"
She was met with silence.
"Maybe she's out shopping?"
Owen frowned and took a step back to look up at the five story brownstone. Rowan sighed, removed her hat and looking about to see there were no casual passers by who would be shocked, took to the air. She had not got two centimetres off the ground before Owen grasped her forearm and pulled her back down.
"I prefer doors."
"Fine." She floated back down to earth, sighed dramatically and walked up to the lock. She removed a glove and holding her hand two inches from it, hit the mechanism with small bolt of green fire. This did much the same job as a key and it slid open slowly. Once again she took Owen's arm and they sauntered up the walk.
As the gate began to ponderously slide shut, Fox squeezed between it and the wall and dove for the bushes, but the couple hadn't marked her. They continued up the stairs to the door.
"Lovely taste," Rowan remarked, patting the head of one of the stylised stone gargoyles that sat perched and menacing on either side at the top of the steps. "Reminders?"
"I hardly care. Shall we ring the bell?"
"If she were home, opening the gate would have alerted her to our presence and I doubt we'd have got this far, don't you think?"
"One can never tell with Demona."
"Oh, I don't know. I never thought so highly of her."
"You don't think highly of anyone, including your brethren."
"This is true," she gave the door an experimental push and it swung open, albeit half off its hinges. "Ooops."
"Spare me. Let's make this quick."
"Where are they?" Xanatos asked Fox's image on the screen, having retreated to his office after making hasty excuses to the trade commission officials and handing over the meetings to one of his executives. There was no sign of Owen and now he knew why.
"They just entered a brownstone, fancy set up, first class all the way. No one's home, heat scans check out. They're alone." Fox's voice came through loud and clear despite the fact that she was crouching in the bushes. She held up a mico-camera and panned so that he could see it. He frowned.
"If they aren't meeting anyone, I don't understand—"
"The gate's opening, looks like the owner's returning." She swivelled the camera, but the black sedan's windows were tinted. It pulled in front of the two car garage and Fox zoomed in as the owner got out of the front seat.
"Know her?" Fox asked as the camera's zoom lens revealed a slim young woman in sunglasses and elegant pant-suit, her thick red hair pulled into a braid to hang halfway down her back.
"Familiar... I'll have Owen— no, scratch that. Damn. I'll run a background check myself. Stay close to them."
Their footsteps echoed on the marble floor of the entryway and they found themselves in a parlour with half the furniture hiding beneath sheets and a layer of dust.
"She doesn't entertain much, does she?" Rowan clucked her tongue against her teeth and removed the sheet before the mirror. It chimed at her touch and the ring glowed a steady white. She slipped it off her finger and it disappeared.
Owen opened his mouth to chide her when he was frozen in place by the sound of the front door opening. He laid a hand on Rowan's shoulder and they ducked behind an ornate oriental screen.
Between the panels, they could peak out the open parlour doors to see the woman in the foyer and Owen's eyebrows rise towards his hairline as he recognised the woman. After all, he had not been present when his gift had taken hold of her. Circumstances had forced him to be content with merely knowing what he had done, but to see it....
She moved with the same arrogance, the features were the same and yet she was human. Exactly what she would have been had she been born human. It was fascinating, as well as disconcerting. Demona kicked off her high heels and freed her hair from its braid as she crossed the open doorway and they could no longer hear her footsteps on the marble floor. Owen muttered a curse, unsure as to where she had gone.
"We have to get out of the house," he whispered into her hair.
"Nonsense, I came for the mirror." Rowan stepped out from behind the screen and peeked into the foyer. "Empty," she mouthed and went back to stand before the mirror.
Owen glanced nervously over his shoulder but there was no sign of the gargoyle turned human woman and he looked back at his reflection in the mirror and gasped.
It was not him as he was now, but what he had been. Rowan's fay reflection smiled back at him and her grey eyes glowed green as she whispered a request to the mirror in a language that had not been spoken in the waking world in centuries.
The surface rippled and then cleared and their reflections vanished. Instead they were looking out a window into a small room, a storeroom of some kind. But displayed on three pedestals, carefully arranged, were the Eye, the Grimorum, and the Phoenix Gate.
"Bingo," Rowan said and then laughed softly. "I've always wanted to say that."
"Hurry," Owen whispered and she touched the mirror surface.
Her hand passed through it.
Demona padded into the foyer and glanced at the scattering of bills and "occupant" mail she had retrieved from the post-box. She flung them onto the table with contempt and froze as she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye.
She turned towards the parlour just as Rowan slipped through the mirror and Owen stepped towards it. She was frozen for the space of a second and then sprinted towards the mirror as the major domo stepped through. She jumped into the rectangle of glass and silver and her world went white.
The mirror folded up and disappeared from the room as if it had never been there.
Fox's eyes widened as the three blips representing heat traces simply vanished from the small hand held screen and she tabbed the mic again.
"David, I've lost them."
"How?" Xanatos's voice was sharp and she flinched.
"One second they were there, the next, gone. It...it doesn't make any sense!"
"All three of them?"
"Yes. I'm going in."
"No!" Xanatos grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "I don't like this. Come back here."
"But they could be back—"
"And if they do, I don't want you there."
Rowan blinked, allowing her eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness and felt along the wall for a light switch. A naked bulb lit up, casting harsh shadows and she gasped as the illumination revealed a travesty beyond imagining.
Owen laid a hand on her shoulder. "Coldstone."
"He reeks of sorcery. What...?"
"Rather a long story. He sleeps, do not worry. Come, let's get what we came for."
"You are so impatient. Aren't you the slightest bit curious?" she peered around the room, picking up an electronics magazine from a small stack.
"Finding the gargoyles' lair is of no concern to me—What are you doing?"
She had picked up the Gate from the table on which it rested and he grasped her wrist, alarmed.
"Oberon's law binds us. We cannot take the Gate unless it is freely offered."
"Binds you. I am bound by no such geas."
"Since when—" He was cut off as the mirror shimmered again and Demona slammed into him full force, the two of them flying in a tangle towards the door, which splintered and burst open beneath the assault.
An inhuman growl was ripped from the ever so human throat as the combatants tumbled into the main room and Owen found himself holding Demona's hands an inch from his throat, her nails curled like talons. Rowan rushed into the room just as his glasses skittered to a stop on the wooden floor before the television. She watched as he flipped the woman off him and she landed on her feet, balancing on one hand and breathing heavily. They began to circle one another.
"You invaded my home, Burnett," Demona seethed and Owen's face was like stone. Rowan stepped between them, the air around her faintly crackling with power as she shed her human guise.
"Don't touch him," Rowan hissed and if Demona was surprised, she showed no sign of it.
"I don't have to." Blue fire leapt from her hands to engulf him as he pushed Rowan out of the way. He staggered and fell to one knee and Rowan's grey eyes blazed with green fury as she flew at Demona, who batted her away with an almost inhuman strength no doubt born of stolen sorcery.
Rowan crashed into the stove, pots clattering to the floor as she scrambled for balance. Owen was already shaking off the effects of the blast, but Demona had straightened from her fighting stance to take a good look around her at last.
"It seems you know my secret," she glared at Rowan, who shrugged. "As much as I despise their race, I have found this form to be convenient in ways I could not have imagined. The Puck did me a favour in the end."
Rowan's eyes widened and she shot a glance at Owen, but his face remained a mask.
"More's the pity, but he is not one to take back his gifts once given. Unlike you." Rowan held up the Gate and Demona's face went slack and then her eyes narrowed.
"So, this was your game? Regain what was lost?"
"Among other things," Owen smoothed his hair, straightened his tie and walked over to where Rowan still crouched, offering her his hand. She took it and brushed herself off, still glowering at the gargoyle-woman.
"Give me the Gate," Demona hissed, "and I will let you live."
Rowan laughed, like the chiming of tiny glass bells and Demona's expression darkened to rage at the sound.
"Do not mock me, changeling!"
"Mock you? But my dear, it is you who mock me. Do you really think the knowledge you stole from the Grimorum is any match for my power? Feh, human magic is are nothing to me." Rowan began to advance on her, eyes blazing. "It is I who do you the great favour by not disembowelling you and leaving your cold corpse for your lover to find. Oh, wait, he no longer favours you with his love, does he?"
Demona screamed with rage and dove for Rowan. Owen moved in front of her, but it proved unnecessary as the irate woman bounced off a shield of green flame.
"Fool me once..." Rowan held up a finger and Owen allowed a ghost of a smile to cross his face as she hurled herself against the barrier again and again. Seething, she straightened, arms crossed across the ruin of her suit.
"Ah, but you're the fool. You have lead me straight to where my 'love' and his companions sleep and now I have them, you and the Eye, Grimorum and Gate."
"My, your self-confidence is amazing. You seem to forget I am the one holding the Gate."
That was when the unfortunate young woman with the gun came in.
It was her night off. Still, Elisa had found herself at the precinct, shuffling papers until Captain Chafes chased her out, reminding her nights off were when they were supposed to do things that people with lives did, not act like deadbeat cops. Instead of walking downstairs to her car and renting a movie and nuking a dinner to share with Cagney, she had made a left turn at the water cooler, heading up the stairs to the storeroom to wait for the guys to wake up.
She heard the voices before she even pulled down the ladder and drew her gun as she crept up one at a time, hoping to be wrong, preparing for the worst.
The worst didn't even begin to cover it as she recognised Owen Burnett.
It would have been comical, the tableau she was presented with. Xanatos's batman, looking as dishevelled as Elisa had never seen him, standing beside an irate young woman who looked like she had just come from the Renaissance Faire and a redhead trying to light fires with her eyes in a suit that looked like she'd been dragged behind a car in it. Over gravel.
"You do not know what you're doing." Rowan shook her head, smiling and Elisa stepped forward, keeping her gun on Burnett.
"No, lady, you're the one who doesn't know what she's doing. How did you get up here?"
"I came through the looking glass."
"Wrong answer." She cocked the gun and Rowan sighed, shaking her head and continuing to smile. She loved mortals desperately; they were an endless source of amusement to her. But this was inconvenient timing, to say the least.
"Detective Maza, this is all a grave misunderstanding."
"Save it, Burnett. Where's your boss?"
"No doubt waiting for me to pick him up from a trade conference. He will be most put out when I don't appear."
"Enough of these games!" Demona hissed and leapt for Elisa, who squeezed off a shot that went wild as the gun was knocked from her hand. Rowan caught the bullet and crushed it to dust, frowning.
"For once, I have to agree with the lady. This is quite enough," Owen snapped and took a step forward, but Demona had a handful of Elisa's hair and held her an inch off the floor.
"I'll snap her neck."
"You will do no such thing," Rowan waved her hand and a stream of light wrapped itself around the surprised woman, lifting her into the air. Elisa fell to the floor, eyes wide. Owen offered her his hand and she pushed him away, getting to her feet shakily but under her own power.
"As much as I hate to resort to the such simple tricks, I believe the situation warrants it." She stepped up to the floating and struggling Demona and simply whispered "sleep."
Demona fell to the floor unconscious and Elisa stepped out of the way, backing into Owen, who grasped her elbow. Rowan turned to her, holding her chin in her fingers.
"You will remember none of this. It did not happen. You came upstairs, sat down and dozed waiting for the sun to set. Now, sleep, child. You and your friends are safe."
Elisa slumped and Owen swept her up and set her in the battered armchair gently, replacing her gun in its holster. He looked up to see the afternoon sun sliding towards the horizon outside the window in the clock face. "We must hurry."
Rowan was already setting things to rights, coaxing the splintered door back into its original form and placing the pans back on the stove. She picked up the Gate and he picked up the sleeping woman.
They stood before the mirror and as Rowan opened her mouth to ask it to give them passage, Owen laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Leave the Gate."
"It is why I came!"
"Enough that you have the mirror. The Gate must stay with Goliath."
"And here I thought you accompanied me because you could not bear to be parted from me after so long."
"The sun is setting, we must hurry. Once she changes back to her gargoyle form, the spell will break. Leave it."
Rowan looked down at the magical object in her hand and swearing, replaced it on the wooden pedestal. They stepped through the mirror, which obligingly followed them and the room was once again plunged into darkness and silence, with no sign of their ever being there.
Owen laid Demona on the couch in the parlour and Rowan stood over her, laying one hand on the unconscious woman's forehead. First the rents and tears in her clothes closed themselves, then the dirt and blood disappeared into the air with a green shimmer.
Demona's eyes fluttered open and she thrashed.
Rowan glanced up at Owen, who nodded.
Demona's eyes went flat and unseeing and Rowan stepped away, back towards the mirror. They vanished through it just as the sun slipped behind the horizon and Demona's form contracted and expanded into Gargoyle form once more and she lazily opened her eyes, stretching.
She approached the mirror, rubbing her eyes and then with a shrug, replaced its sheet. Her reflection followed her movements just as it would in a normal sheet of silver and glass.
Which it was. But she wouldn't discover that for some time yet.
Goliath stretched, chips of stone falling like rain to the street below and eyed the purple and rose sky as it darkened to indigo above him. He stepped inside and smiled as he saw Elisa curled up in the chair.
He touched her shoulder and her eyes fluttered open, a yawn escaping behind her hand.
"I must have dozed off."
"Hey, Elisa," Lexington bounded past her towards his computer and Bronx sniffed her hand, making sympathetic noises. She scratched behind his ears.
"Can you stay for dinner?" Broadway's expression was hopeful as he rubbed his palms together in anticipation of her answer. "I'm going to try salmon steaks."
"Hey, how can I turn down an offer like that?" She laughed.
Goliath rose from her side and Elisa relinquished the overstuffed armchair to Hudson, who bowed and then settled down to watch the six o'clock news.
Elisa followed the gargoyle leader into the storeroom, where he ran a finger over the Phoenix Gate with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Penny," she said softly and he sighed.
"Just remembering," he sighed and offered his arm. "Come, Broadway will be displeased if we miss his preparing of the meal. He's ridiculously pleased with himself for discovering the recipe on a late night cable channel and has been afire to try it ever since."
Xanatos stood at the kerb, impatiently glancing at his watch as the limousine pulled up.
"Five-twenty, Owen. I trust you have a good explanation for this one?"
"I'm afraid I let personal business waylay me, sir. I promise it won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't," Xanatos settled back in the plush seat and watched the island flash by outside his window, streetlamps coming up and headlights stretching out into the encroaching night. "Will your lady friend be joining us for dinner again tonight?"
"She has returned home, sir."
"I see. I trust she proved to be no trouble after all?"
"Oh, she was a bit of trouble, sir. But nothing I couldn't handle."
Owen took a deep breath before opening the door the his apartments. The mirror stood in one corner. Rowan pacing the length of the room, shoulders tight with anger as she whirled on him.
"You have led me a merry chase, old friend."
"It was necessary." He put his hands on her shoulders and she met his eyes.
"Necessary," she repeated. "What happened between you and the gargoyle witch?"
"Ah. That. It was nothing that I could not handle and I have repaid her in kind, don't you think?"
"You could have saved me a day's chasing after the damned mirror, if you had just spoken of it." She raised her hand as if she would strike him. He caught her fingers in his own.
"And spoil your game? I know how much you enjoy the chase."
"Or perhaps you simply enjoy watching me make a fool of myself."
"I do enjoy watching you, I grant you that," he said softly, caressing her hand with his thumb. She snatched it back, scowling. He sighed. "What would you have done with the Gate? Returned it to your mistress? I am not so much of a fool as to think you would hand over so powerful an object without a motive to match it."
She glared at him. Whether she was still angry at his deception, or his questioning of her motives, he could not tell. Her expression softened and she chuckled.
"Perhaps," she admitted, sweeping her hair back from her brow. "Was your master angry with you?"
"He was not pleased, but I believe I handled the situation well."
"I am sorry for that. I never meant to cause you pain."
He pulled her into an embrace. "You have never brought anything but upheavals to my life and I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Come with me, Owen." Her hair smelled of apple blossoms and sweet wine. "End your service; ten years is more than enough for any mortal."
"And it is but a moment to us." Owen smiled and she rested her cheek against his chest. "Not yet. But someday. You have my word."
"I'll hold you to that," she smiled and floated up to kiss him tenderly before backing into the mirror. He stared at his reflection, his True reflection, for a moment before it folded in on itself and was gone and he was alone.
Fox dropped the wig into Xanatos' lap and he grasped her around the waist, grinning. She kissed him quickly and then began pulling out the pins that held her hair.
"What did the background check on the house turn up?"
"An estate that was bought recently by one Dominique Destine, for cash no less. Not even so much as a grounds keeper. The lady seems to be quite the recluse."
"I don't understand." Fox let her hair fall down her back in a copper cascade. "Doesn't it bother you?"
"What, that Owen has his secrets? Not at all. Oh, I admit I'm curious. But I won't pry. Not right now in any case."
"I don't think I'll ever understand you, David Xanatos. If he were one of mine, I'd have ripped his liver out by now."
"The kind of loyalty Owen provides can't be brought, Fox. That's why I need him. Pay a man enough and he'll walk barefoot into hell, I've always said. But Owen is a rare thing; a man without a price. I don't want to lose him."
"Dinner is ready, sir," Owen's voice drifted into the room over the intercom and Xanatos smiled.
"He's the only constant in my life, I sometimes think." He offered Fox his arm.
"I hope you're right." She took it and they headed downstairs to the dining room.
Sitting alone on the pillow in Burnett's quarters was an opal set in rose gold ring, just the size for an exceptionally fine-boned woman's finger and the smell of apples hung in the air like a promise.